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In the increasingly competitive global wheat market, it is important to review the advantages that U.S. wheat delivers to millers and bakers. This post examines the advantages that durum wheat brings to the market.


Durum is the pasta wheat and the fifth-largest class of wheat grown in the United States with an annual average production over the last five years of 1.6 million metric tons (MMT), or about 58.79 million bushels. In part because of regional economies of scale, U.S. imports of durum at a 5-year average are 1.18 million metric tons (MMT). In comparison, export volume at a 5-year average is slightly less than 680 thousand metric tons (TMT).

Northern durum is grown in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana and primarily exported through the Lakes via the St. Lawrence Seaway or the Gulf. Desert Durum® is a registered certification mark owned by the Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council and the California Wheat Commission. These groups authorize using the mark only for designated durum grain produced under irrigation in Arizona and California’s desert valleys and lowlands. Desert Durum® is exported from the Gulf or the West Coast.

Image shows long goods pasta production in a commercial plant.

The finest quality pasta is produced from U.S. durum grown in the northern Plains and in the southwest as Desert Durum®.

Milling Advantages

U.S. durum is competitive mostly with Canadian durum in the global market. U.S. durum is represented by three subclasses controlling for hard, vitreous kernel (HVK) content. Subclass options include Hard Amber Durum (HAD) with more than 75% vitreous kernels; Amber Durum with 60% to 74% vitreous kernels; and Durum with less than 60% vitreous kernels. Higher HVK values yield a larger quantity of semolina. U.S. durum has a large kernel size, allowing millers to benefit from higher extraction rates.

Desert Durum® is harvested and shipped at a very low moisture content. This advantage to millers contributes to efficient transportation costs and high extraction rates. It also allows them to add significantly more water during the tempering and conditioning phase of processing.

Product Advantages

The finest quality pasta is the primary product made from U.S. durum –  long goods, short goods, pasta of all shapes and sizes. Other products made from durum include couscous and some varieties of traditional Mediterranean semolina bread. In all durum food products, one quality factor is the most critical to the consumer – color. In its purest form, pasta is water and durum semolina. Couscous is large semolina boiled and eaten as an alternative to rice. In both products, consumers prefer a bright yellow, translucent appearance that U.S. durum delivers because of its higher HVK level. The higher HVK also allows the miller to provide a more uniform, consistent semolina to the pasta process, thus improving production efficiencies and color.

Image shows couscous made from durum wheat

Couscous is produced with durum wheat.

Sourcing Opportunities

Like some other classes of wheat, U.S. durum planted area is declining. Proactively working with producers and suppliers is the best way to assure ample supply to the market. Desert Durum® can be produced and delivered “identity-preserved” to domestic and export markets, which allows customers to purchase grain of varieties possessing quality traits specific to their needs. Annual production requirements can be pre-contracted with grain merchandisers ahead of the fall-winter planting season for harvest from late May to early July. Varietal identity is maintained by experienced growers planting certified seed and merchandisers who store and ship according to customers’ preferred delivery schedules.

Northern durum is competitively sourced by U.S. pasta producers in the Midwest and northern states. Export customers must be proactive when working with suppliers to obtain the best quality available, such as HAD.

U.S. Wheat Advantages

As we highlight each specific class in this series, let us not forget the advantages that all U.S. wheat classes bring to the market. First, and perhaps the most important, is consistency in quality and consistency of supply. Although each new crop year brings different challenges and opportunities, U.S. wheat is always available to the global market. Second, U.S. wheat delivers variety. Wheat is a raw material manufactured into a bakery ingredient: flour. The flour made from each class of U.S. wheat brings value to the market through specific quality characteristics that make a variety of baked goods and noodles. Further, blending flours from one or more types of wheat is an important component for customers to understand as part of optimizing flour performance at a minimal cost.

Each region, country, and culture have wheat-based food products that are uniquely their own. With six unique wheat classes, the United States has the right wheat class to deliver the optimal quality and value for every variety of product on the market.

Learn more about the six classes of U.S. wheat here or leave a question in our “Ask The Expert” section.

By Mark Fowler, USW Vice President of Global Technical Services


Read more about other U.S. wheat classes in this series.

Hard Red Winter
Hard Red Spring
Hard White
Soft White
Soft Red Winter

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Last week, USDA released three reports giving some indication of what may be ahead for the 2022 global wheat market. Those USDA reports were the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, the quarterly Grain Stocks report, and the annual Winter Wheat Seedings report.

Considering all three reports, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) notes that the latest WASDE report showed few unexpected changes to the worldwide balance sheet of wheat. Some upward revisions were made in Argentina and the EU. Still, the reports forecast global consumption far higher than production. The Grain Stocks report reflected the significant drop in total 2021/22 U.S. wheat production. Predictably, U.S. farmers seeded more winter wheat for a second year in a row.

In fact, after winter wheat plantings fell to their lowest level in more than a century in 2020/21, U.S. winter wheat seeded area for marketing year 2022/23 has increased for the second year in a row, up 2% from 2021 and 13% compared to 2020 reported the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in their annual Winter Wheat Seedings report released Jan. 12, 2022. Winter wheat seeded acres are the most they have been since 2016/17.

Bar graph showing annual U.S. winter wheat seeded area indicates an increase over the past two years to illustrate USDA Reports story.

According to recent USDA reports, U.S. farmers are responding to increased global demand and lower U.S. stocks by seeding more winter wheat in 2022.

The Winter Wheat Seedings report showed farmers planted 23.8 million acres (9.6 million hectares) of hard red winter (HRW). This report is up 1% from 2021, led by Kansas, up 3%, and Texas, up 2%. Notable drops in seeded area came in Colorado, down 2%, and New Mexico down 11%.

The quarterly USDA Grain Stocks report confirmed all U.S. wheat in storage, both on and off farm, was down 18% compared to a year ago, while disappearance was down 16% compared to the year before. Analysts expect ending stocks for the 2021/22 marketing year to be the smallest since 2013/14 at 628 million bushels (17.09/MMT).

Price Signals

Increased cash price this year has no doubt played a role in farmer decisions to seed more HRW acres. Kansas Wheat Commission CEO Justin Gilpin noted higher HRW prices as one reason for a second consecutive year of higher wheat plantings. Year-over-year prices for HRW at 12% protein (12% moisture basis) are up 24%.

Soft red winter (SRW) farmers have also taken advantage of strong pricing and increased export demand to plant more SRW acres. Estimates of SRW for the 2022/23 marketing year are 7.07 million acres (2.86 million hectares), 6% higher than last year. Increased acres are largest in Missouri, up 38%, North Carolina is up 31% and Ohio up 21%. USDA reported decreases in Maryland, down 16%, and Michigan, down 23%. The 2021/22 SRW export pace is 50% ahead of last year’s pace year-to-date.

Estimated white winter wheat (soft white and hard white) are 3.56 million acres (1.44 million hectares). This estimate is up 2% from 2021.

Desert Durum® seeded area in California and Arizona of 90,000 acres (36,421 hectares) is up 15% compared to last year and 20% compared to 2020.

Drought Lingers in the Plains

In the monthly “Wheat Outlook” report published by the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the USDA, analysts reported that major HRW producing states, mostly concentrated in the Plains states, saw conditions for winter wheat degrade since November but noted that spring conditions are more influential on production numbers. Kansas’s Gilpin noted “attention has turned to expanding drought ratings across HRW regions and potentially yield and production impacts. Dry conditions and higher input costs both are concerns.”

NOAA map shows where U.S. wheat production areas overlap with drought conditions to supplement USDA reports article.

By Michael Anderson, USW Market Analyst

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Desert Durum ® is a registered certification mark of the Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council and the California Wheat Commission, which authorize its use only to designate durum grown under irrigation in the desert valleys and lowlands of Arizona and California.

Desert Durum ® can be produced and delivered “identity preserved” to domestic and export markets, which allows customers to purchase grain with quality traits specific to their processing needs. Annual requirements can be pre-contracted with grain merchandisers ahead of the fall-winter planting season for harvest in late May through early July. Varietal identity is maintained by experienced growers planting certified seed and merchandisers who store and ship according to customers’ preferred delivery schedules.

Desert Durum ® exhibits consistently large kernels and low moisture, traits that contribute to efficient transportation costs and high extraction rates. The 2021 crop will deliver the valuable milling, semolina and pasta quality traits that customers have learned to expect and appreciate.

Production

Desert Durum ® Production acreage in 2021 was lower than 2020. According to USDA, yields were 2.61 tons/acre, and quality was uniformly good. Powell was the most widely grown variety in California and Arizona. Alberto was the second most grown durum variety.

2021 Crop Quality Highlights

  • The overall grade sample average for the 2021 Desert Durum ® harvest survey is U.S. No. 1 Hard Amber Durum (HAD).
  • Test weight is indicative of sound wheat and a uniform crop with an average of 83.2 kg/hl (63.9 lb/bu).
  • Average Damaged kernels are 0% and Total defects are 0.6%.
  • The average Vitreous kernel (HVAC) content is 98.7%, a high average typical of Desert Durum ®.
  • Wheat protein content average is 13.9% (12% mb), consistent with the 5-year average.
  • Kernel moisture content is low at 7.5%, a characteristic of Desert Durum ®.
  • The semolina b* value is 32.5, similar to last year’s 32.7
  • Wet gluten average is 36.1% and Gluten index average is 69.
  • Mixograph score is 7.0 and alveograph W value is 191 (10-4 J).
  • Spaghetti color b* value is 44 and color SCORE is 10.1, higher than last year and the 5-year average.
  • Spaghetti cooked firmness average is 7.2, similar to last year and above the 5-year average

For more information on 2021 Desert Durum ® crop quality, review the detailed report on the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) website.

2021 California Hard Red Winter Wheat

California’s wheat growing regions are defined by climate, value of alternative crops and distinct differences in variety selection. Most California hard wheat is planted from October to January and harvested in June and July. With the strong demand for new crop wheat in the domestic marketplace, importers are encouraged to express their interest in purchasing California wheat in early spring.

California hard wheat varieties are known for their low moisture and large and uniform kernel size. Because wheat is predominantly grown under irrigation, growers achieve high yields and consistent quality. Overall, the majority of the 2021 crop has medium protein. Consistent with other years, the 2021 crop has low moisture, high flour extraction and strong baking performance — all of which make California wheat suitable for blending.

Weather and Production

California had below average rainfall in 2020/21, and in wheat growing regions rainfall was just over 50% of the 10-year average. Drought in the Sacramento Valley and the northern San Joaquin Valley was even more pronounced; this negatively affected stand establishment and early growth and was compounded by predation of stands by migratory geese. Disease incidence was relatively low; however, stripe rust was reported in the Delta region and the northern San Joaquin Valley. Weather during grain filling was dry and average-to-cooler-than-average in much of the state. Overall, yields were average or below average.

2021 Crop Quality Highlights

  • The overall grade sample average collected for the 2021 California HRW harvest survey is U.S. No. 1 HRW.
  • Test weight averages are indicative of sound wheat and a uniform crop with a medium protein average of 83.2 kg/hl (63.3 lb/bu) and high protein average of 81.7 kg/hl (62.1 lb/bu).
  • Kernel moisture content is low with medium protein at 9.6% and high protein at 9.7%.
  • The average wheat falling number for medium and high protein was 344 seconds and 369 seconds, respectively.
  • Laboratory mill flour extraction for medium protein was 68.2% and high protein was 66.6%.
  • This crop demonstrates excellent baking performance with an average loaf volume or medium protein at 900 cc and high protein at 945 cc.

For more information on 2021 California hard red winter and hard white crop quality, review the detailed report on the USW website.

2021 Crop Quality Data on Other U.S. Wheat Classes

Hard Red Spring
Soft White
Hard Red Winter
Soft Red Winter
Northern Durum
Hard White

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Throughout 2021, the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Wheat Letter is featuring the many stories of the people, processes and passions that go into producing and delivering high-quality U.S. wheat to the world. Our focus will be on quality that starts with dedicated private and public wheat breeding programs, is fostered by hard-working farm families, is maintained by grain handlers and observed in hundreds of wholesome, nutritious wheat foods.


Scientists in U.S. wheat breeding programs work tirelessly to develop wheat varieties that meet the highest of standards, to meet our customers’ end-use needs and to help farm families thrive.

The journey of wheat to food tables around the world begins in public and commercial breeding programs. The process of continually improving varieties for farmers to grow, feed into the supply chain and, ultimately, end up in food products around the world.

Many such wheat breeding programs across the United States are necessary because of the widely varied production constraints and wheat classes adapted for different regions. Public university breeding programs have developed an estimated 65% of all U.S. wheat varieties across six distinct classes, funded in part by state wheat commissions, royalties from the sale of public varieties, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

In this post, Wheat Letter offers broad information about public university wheat breeding programs in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California.

Federal Quality Lab

One major advantage to western U.S. public wheat breeding programs is its collaboration with scientists at the USDA-ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory (WWQL) near the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash.

Dr. Kimberly Garland-Campbell, Research Geneticist, ARS. Photo from LinkedIn.

The ARS laboratory works closely with public breeders, geneticists and pathologists in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California and Arizona to evaluate the milling and baking quality characteristics of wheat selections produced each crop year. Researchers there are trying to better understand the fundamental nature of end-use functionality. In addition, Dr. Kimberly Garland-Campbell, Research Geneticist with ARS, focuses on club wheat research for the Pacific Northwest states.

Many overseas buyers of U.S. wheat have learned firsthand about the work of both institutions during trade team visits sponsored by U.S. Wheat Associates (USW).

University of Idaho

Farmers grow soft white (SW), hard red winter (HRW), hard red spring (HRS), durum and hard white (HW) wheat in Idaho’s diverse agricultural environment with and without irrigation. And wheat breeding research at the University of Idaho (UI) has contributed many of the most desirable wheat varieties adapted to Idaho and the Pacific Northwest (PNW), with excellent end-use quality.

IU Wheat Breeder Dr. Jianli Chen recently told the Idaho Wheat Commission (IWC) that IU wheat varieties help make wheat from Idaho and other PNW states more competitive in the world market. The IWC invests farmer checkoff funds in the ISU wheat breeding program.

To represent wheat breeding at the University of Idaho

Quality is part of Dr. Jianli Chen’s wheat breeding program at the University of Idaho. Photo courtesy of Jianli Chen.

Excellent Quality

Dr. Chen said a spring SW variety called UI Cookie and a HW variety called UI Jade Bronze from her program are showing promise for high yields and excellent functional milling and baking qualities. IWC research investment helped fund Dr. Chen’s UI Cookie development.

In addition, Dr. Chen and her UI colleagues are using genetic tools that speed up the wheat breeding process and identify traits in lines that can be crossed to make varieties more productive while using less fertilizer and water.

To show a new wheat variety called IU Cookie in a test plot.

UI Cookie is a spring SW variety with excellent baking qualities developed by Dr. Chen with help from Idaho Wheat Commission checkoff funds. Photo courtesy of Jianli Chen.

Foundation Seed

The UI Foundation Seed Program maintains approximately 120 UI-produced varieties of wheat and other crops and UI research and extension center staff produce seed on university-owned owned farms. Finally, the Idaho Crop Improvement Association inspects seed fields for purity before seed can be sold to farmers. UI seed sales revenue is also invested back into the UI Foundation Seed program.

Washington State University

Washington State University (WSU) and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant breeding programs focus on developing cultivars with high yield potential, excellent end-use quality, and resistance to stress. These programs have a successful record releasing new SW, Club, HRS and HRW wheat varieties that Pacific Northwest farmers want to plant.

A Washington Grain Commission (WGC) video highlights these programs.

WSU Wheat Breeders

Dr. Arron Carter holds the Orville A. Vogel Endowed Chair in Winter Wheat Breeding and Genetics at WSU. In collaboration with colleagues and Washington farmers, Dr. Carter says the program identifies genetic solutions to winter wheat varietal development and production problems. That, in turn, enhances the sustainability of the Washington wheat industry

One of those colleagues is Dr. Michael Pumphrey, who holds the O.A. Vogel Endowed Chair in Spring Wheat Breeding and Genetics. As with Dr. Carter, Dr. Pumphrey tries to address plant disease resistance and grain quality in his breeding work.

To show Washington State University wheat breeders.

Dr. Arron Carter, left, and Dr. Mike Pumphrey, right, jointly hold the Orville A. Vogel Endowed Chair in Wheat Breeding at Washington State University. Dr. Carter breeds winter wheat and Dr. Pumphrey breeds spring wheat varieties. Washington State University photo.

The WSU Extension Cereal Variety Testing Program gives growers and the agribusiness industry comprehensive information on winter and spring wheat adaptation and performance across the different climatic regions of eastern Washington. The program also offers WSU and USDA-ARS wheat breeding programs a uniform testing and evaluation program for preliminary wheat lines to help develop variety release recommendations to the Washington Agricultural Research Center.

A Note on Preferred Varieties

As trusted suppliers to domestic and overseas customers, organizations that represent PNW wheat farmers have long emphasized milling and baking quality improvement. The Washington Grain Commission was the first organization to collect wheat quality information and use the data to rate individual varieties on how they meet end-user quality standards. WGC provided the ratings to farmers in an annual Preferred Wheat Variety publication. Today, WGC, the Idaho Wheat Commission and the Oregon Wheat Commission publish one preferred variety booklet.

Oregon State University

Wheat breeding at Oregon State University (OSU) focuses on quality traits, resistance to diseases, and adaptability to a wide range of growing environments throughout Oregon. Those priorities are seen in the two scientists who lead the program: Professor Robert Zemetra, Wheat Breeder, and Professor Andrew Ross, Milling and Baking Science.

To show a portrait of Dr. Andrew Ross, Oregon State University

Milling and baking science is Dr. Andrew Ross’s domain at Oregon State University. Dr. Ross and colleagues also evaluate OSU wheat variety quality characteristics. Oregon State University photo.

The program reports that it tests more than 40,000 genetically distinct lines specifically for the Pacific Northwest. With wheat breeding, quality testing, and extension, the program works to meet the needs of the farmer, the miller, and the baker. OSU wheat varieties are widely planted in Oregon and neighboring Washington state as they are well adapted to those growing environments.

Making an Impact

A portrait of Dr. Robert Zemetra, Oregon State University

Dr. Robert Zemetra, Oregon State University.

In this video produced by OSU, Dr. Zemetra and Dr. Ross talk about how their work on bread wheat affects the baking and farming communities in Oregon. Overseas buyers sourcing wheat from the Pacific Northwest know there is a positive impact in their markets, too.

OWC Funding

Oregon Wheat Commission (OWC) funding supports this team, including other colleagues, specifically to “develop new SW, HW, HRW and winter club wheat cultivars with superior end-use quality” adapted to Oregon’s growing regions that also increase economic returns to growers.

Additional funding for the program comes from the OSU Agricultural Research Foundation, commercial companies and royalties from the many wheat and cereal crop varieties it has developed.

University of California Davis

For more than 100 years, the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) has played a major role in developing and managing many of the plant commodities grown in California, including soft white, hard red, hard white and Desert Durum® wheat classes.

Showing a portrait of Dr. Jorge Dubcovsky

Dr. Jorge Dubcovsky’s wheat breeding program at UC Davis has developed varieties with strong yield potential and excellent milling, baking and semolina qualities.

Dr. Jorge Dubcovsky leads the UC Davis Wheat Breeding Program and Molecular Genetics laboratory. An internationally recognized wheat breeder, Dr. Dubcovsky has, for the last 20 years, led a large consortium of U.S. public breeding programs aimed at improving breeding technologies and train new breeders. In addition, he has been a lead researcher in projects to improve wheat and barley water and fertilizer use and completed a project in 2014 aimed at “Improving California Wheat Quality and Nutritional Value.” In 2020, his UC Davis program received a grant to improve wheat’s dietary fiber content.

Fall-Seeded Spring Wheats

Producing wheat in a mild winter climate, farmers seed California wheat varieties in the fall and harvest the next summer. However, the varieties are genetically classified as spring wheat. The UC Davis program has developed wheat varieties with high water absorption, high viscosity and, based on the classification above, high stability and gluten strength. Dr. Dubcovsky’s program also focuses on developing wheat varieties with improved nutritional values.

Improved Quality and Demand

Together with UC Davis, the California Wheat Commission (CWC) also publishes an annual Preferred Variety List based on bread baking qualities. CWC recommends farmers to select varieties from the preferred class will help to increase the overall quality and desirability of California wheat.

A Note on Desert Durum®

The term Desert Durum® is a certification mark issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that describes “…at least 90% wheat grain produced under irrigation in the desert valleys and lowlands of Arizona or California.” The mark is jointly owned by the Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council and the California Wheat Commission. Only parties granted permission by the owner(s) can describe grain as Desert Durum®.

Most of the Desert Durum® varieties now grown in the desert southwest are products of breeding programs conducted by both private firms and the public breeding program at UC Davis.

Arizona’s annual wheat crop consists mostly of durum varieties developed by private breeding programs that originated the modern Desert Durum® varieties over three decades ago. They continue their efforts today.

Most of California’s Desert Durum® production consists of varieties from the UC Davis breeding program that has been led by Dr. Jorge Dubcovsky for many years. These varieties include genes for increased grain protein and improved pasta color and gluten strength.

Identity Preserved

Desert Durum® is generally available to domestic and export markets as “identity preserved” grain by specific variety, which allows customers to acquire grain possessing quality traits that meet their specific needs. The identity preserved system allows customers to contract varieties and volumes with grain merchandisers who sell certified seed to experienced growers who maintain varietal identity throughout the planting, growing, harvesting, and delivery processes. Grain merchandisers then store the grain by variety and may ship on the customers’ preferred schedules.


Read about other U.S. wheat public breeding programs:

Programs Serving Northern Plains Producers
Programs Serving Southern and Central Plains Producers
Public Wheat Breeding Programs Serving Soft Red Winter Producers

Read about other U.S. wheat commercial breeding programs:

BASF Corp. and Corteva
AgriPro and WestBred

Stories covering additional programs will be published soon.

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The U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Board of Directors includes wheat farmer leaders appointed to represent each of the 17 state wheat commissions that are members of USW and meets three times during each marketing year (June to May). For each of the meetings, the USW Market Analyst prepares a “Wheat Supply and Demand Outlook” report based on USDA market data to provide an update on the global and U.S. wheat market. The full Winter 2021 report is posted at https://bit.ly/MarketSummary012721.

The report includes sections on world wheat supply and demand, wheat production in the major wheat exporting countries and regions, including U.S. wheat production by class, timely reports such as U.S. wheat seeded area, and U.S. commercial wheat sales.

World Production and Use data from the Winter 2021 Wheat Supply and Demand Outlook

The latest report, prepared Jan. 27, 2021, indicates marketing year 2020/21 is a significant one, with several records set. For example, USDA expects global wheat production to reach 773 million metric tons (MMT) following increased annual production in Australia, Russia and Canada among exporting countries. World wheat trade is expected to increase 1% to a record 194 MMT, which would be 7% more than the 5-year average. With strong carryover from 2019/20 and increased production, global wheat ending stocks are projected at 313 MMT, with China expected to hold 159 MMT and India 31.3 MMT of that total at the end of 2020/21. U.S wheat ending stocks, however, are expected to be the lowest since 2014/15.

USDA has also reported that U.S. winter wheat seeded area (including hard red winter, soft red winter, fall seeded soft white, hard white and Desert Durum®) increased for the first time since 2013/14. Hutchins notes in the report that beneficial field conditions and strong farmgate price potential at planting time motivated hard red winter and soft red winter wheat producers to increase planted area from last year.

U.S. Winter wheat planted area data from the Winter 2021 Wheat Supply and Demand Outlook

View the full Winter 2021 Wheat Supply and Demand Outlook at https://bit.ly/MarketSummary012721.

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The 2020 Desert Durum® crop will again deliver the valuable milling, semolina and pasta quality traits that customers have learned to expect and appreciate.

Desert Durum® is a registered certification mark owned jointly by the Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council (AGRPC) and the California Wheat Commission (CWC). The mark certifies or is intended to certify that grain so named is at least 90 percent wheat grain produced under irrigation in the desert valleys and lowlands of Arizona or California.

Before providing details on the new crop Desert Durum® quality, here is a look back by AGRPC Executive Director Allan B. Simons at how this unique and valuable commodity evolved into the identity preserved product it is today.

Historical Perspective

Arizona and California farmers grew durum wheat widely in the decades before 1980. However, the varieties available at the time generally possessed such mediocre milling and semolina flour qualities that this “desert durum” suffered a rather poor reputation among both domestic and foreign semolina millers and pasta makers. Therefore, much of this production was consigned to livestock feed.

Somewhat better quality durum varieties were being grown and even exported by the early 1980s. However, a cross between several northern durum varieties and two high-producing desert varieties, performed by a private cereal breeding firm in 1976 serendipitously produced a line possessing such superior color and pasta quality traits that it was introduced to a major Italian pasta company in 1980/81. The Italian firm began importing this durum, first in containers before moving to cargo ship holds. The variety was awarded a plant variety protection certificate in 1982 and occupied significant crop acreage in Arizona and the Imperial Valley of California by 1983. This variety, with its very desirable qualities, represented the first in a long and continuing line of high-quality durum varieties adapted to the southwestern U.S. deserts now known as Desert Durum®. These varieties are developed and released by Arizona’s private breeding programs to be sold both domestically and overseas.

Arizona Desert Durum® variety trial plots.

About half of annual Desert Durum® production in Arizona and California has been exported for many years, with Italy as the perennial leading export destination. One reason for Italy’s continued purchase of Desert Durum® is its valued semolina quality traits, allowing Italian pasta makers to maintain quality standards as they deal with typically variable grain quality from other sources.

Arizona wheat growers possess very little grain storage capability, so most of the annual Desert Durum® crop is grown to be “identity preserved,” a program by which the grower plants certified seed purchased from the grain handler that will eventually purchase the crop. The grain crops are harvested, delivered and stored by variety for future shipment to fill existing or future customer orders. Also, the handlers continually remind growers of the critical need to maintain production practices needed to achieve the expected quality standards for Desert Durum®. Grain handler representatives annually discuss varietal traits, production conditions, prices, shipping realities and other factors with customers. They also work with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) representatives to support and inform potential Desert Durum® buyers.

Sustainability Metrics

Some domestic and overseas customers of Desert Durum® have adopted certain “sustainability metrics” for their grain purchases that tend to cast an unfavorable reputation on small grains production in some environments. One of their negative metrics determines that wheat grown with substantial irrigation possesses a relatively high “water footprint,” defined as the quantity of water needed to produce a unit of grain.

The AGRPC recently commissioned a University of Arizona study that reviewed a wide range of the topic’s literature and production practices and environments that influence the metric. The study concluded that Arizona’s durum wheat production, as currently practiced, has a water footprint that is lower to much lower than evidenced in many other durum production regions. Furthermore, the report observes that the water footprint values stated or calculated for durum wheat production under Arizona’s conditions are over-stated on many sustainability websites. The report can be accessed on the following website under “2015 Project Reports”: https://agriculture.az.gov/arizona-grain-research-and-promotion-council-previously-funded-research-projects.

2020 Crop Quality

Desert Durum® crops in both Arizona and Southern California are grown under weather conditions and management practices that promote consistently favorable grain, milling, and semolina traits. These crops are seldom negatively affected by adverse weather events. The result is grain of consistently large low moisture kernels possessing very high hard amber durum counts and which yield high semolina extraction rates.

Desert Durum® production acreage in 2020 was somewhat greater than in 2019. The combined results of Desert Durum® surveys conducted by the AGRPC and CWC reveals the following crop data. The average grade is No. 1 Hard Amber Durum (HAD). Test weight is 62.3 lb/bu (81.1 kg/hl). The average hard vitreous amber kernel content (HVAC) is 99.0%, a high average typical of Desert Durum®. Average damaged kernels are 0.2% and total defects are 0.6%. Desert Durum® is characterized by its low kernel moisture content and this year’s average is 6.9%. Protein content average is 14.5% (12% mb).

Semolina and Processing Data. The semolina extraction rate average across varieties is 71.1%. The semolina b* value is 32.7, higher than 2019 b* value of 29.2. Wet gluten is 34.7% and gluten index is 87. Semolina Mixograph score is 7 and Alveograph W value is 294 (10-4 J), both of which indicate high strength. Pasta color b* value is 43 and score is 9.6. Pasta cooked firmness is 7.4, higher than 2019.

Whole wheat durum pasta.

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For 40 years, U.S. wheat farmers have supported U.S. Wheat Associates’ (USW) efforts to work directly with buyers and promote their six classes of wheat. Their contributions to state wheat commissions, who in turn contribute a portion of those funds to USW, qualifies USW to apply for export market development funds managed by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Currently, 17 state wheat commissions are USW members and this series highlights those partnerships and the work being done state-by-state to provide unmatched service. Behind the world’s most reliable supply of wheat are the world’s most dependable people – and that includes our state wheat commissions.


Member: Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council
USW Member since 1987

Location: Phoenix, Ariz.
Classes of Wheat Grown: Durum
USW Leadership: Michael Edgar, 2008/09 Chairman

The Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council utilizes grower check-off funds to aid in marketing for wheat and barley, to participate in research projects and other programs to assist in reducing freshwater consumption, to develop new grain varieties and to improve grain production, harvesting and handling methods. The Council is made up of seven Arizona grain producers appointed by the Governor.

Arizona farmers were growing durum wheat widely in the decades before 1980. As improved varieties were developed to provide consistently excellent semolina for fine quality pasta, growers identified an opportunity to promote their durum overseas. After the AGRPC was authorized by the state legislature in 1985, representatives attended a U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) meeting in 1986 and joined USW in January 1987.

Today, Arizona growers work with USW to promote Desert Durum®, an identity protected by a legal certification mark and owned jointly by the AGRPC and the California Wheat Commission. Desert Durum® is grown only under irrigation in the desert valleys and lowlands of Arizona and California.

Why is export market development important to Arizona wheat farmers and why do they continue to support USW and its activities?

Arizona’s growers are very favorably leveraged by USW’s promotional efforts around the world. Arizona’s growers receive just as much respect from USW and its export promotional programs as do its large wheat-producing members. This has been the case for 33 years and counting.

About half of the annual production of Desert Durum® (Arizona and California combined) has been exported for many years, with Italy as the perennial leading export destination, followed by Nigeria. One reason for Italy’s continued purchase of Desert Durum® is that Italian pasta makers value the consistent semolina quality of Desert Durum® and are willing to pay more for its grain than for durum from other origins.

USW assists its members in numerous ways to educate growers and the public about the importance and role of wheat production and export in their states. Some of the means of providing such assistance include arranging board teams of state representatives to visit existing and potential importing countries and organizing trade teams of foreign customer representatives to visit U.S. wheat class production regions. USW members greatly appreciate these opportunities to promote their wheat classes for both export domestic audiences.

USW also publishes annual crop quality reports that characterize both Northern durum and Desert Durum® separately. This distinction allows potential customers to verify the uniform large kernel size, low moisture content, and other grain and processing traits of Desert Durum® that produce very desirable semolina quality.

How have Arizona wheat farmers recently connected with overseas customers?

One member of AGRPC has integrated export market development work through USW into his company’s efforts to provide customers with high quality grains for Identity Preserved markets. Michael Edgar, President of Barkley Seeds, Yuma, Ariz., for more than 30 years has participated in several overseas trade missions organized by USW, including his engagement in a trip to Morocco, Italy and Israel in 2016 to promote Desert Durum® and other U.S. wheat classes. Edgar served as an officer with USW including as its Chair in 2008/09.

AGRPC member Michael Edgar has worked for more than 30 years with USW to promote exports of Desert Durum® and all U.S. wheat classes. Here Edgar (right) accepts the USW Chairman’s gavel in 2008 from outgoing Chairman Ron Suppes, a Kansas Wheat commission member and farmer.

Edgar (second from left) joined other farmer directors of USW on a trade mission to Italy, Morocco and Israel in 2016.

AGRPC member Eric Wilkey has traveled to Latin America with a USW board team, joined by growers from Montana and Oklahoma. He learned that the excellent quality of Desert Durum® is recognized by pasta makers in that region.

Arizona and grower members of AGRPC have also been privileged to entertain numerous USW trade teams from most of the regions that have traveled to the U.S. to learn about the country’s durum producers and their production efforts.

AGRPC member Eric Wilkey joined growers from Montana and Oklahoma on a USW trade team to Latin America.

In 2012, Wilkey described the nature of the Desert Durum® industry to members of Group FORAFRIC, a Moroccan milling firm, who made a self-sponsored visit to Arizona and California, facilitated by USW, to investigate the production and purchase of Desert Durum®.

What is happened lately in Arizona that overseas customers should know about?

Arizona hosts several private breeding programs that focus intensely on the varietal traits desired by local wheat growers, such as yield, standability and pest resistance, as well as the quality traits that pasta manufacturing customers covet, including bright amber color, strong gluten strength and high falling number.

Here is a wheat breeding nursery like those maintained by each of the private breeding enterprises in Arizona, which has no publicly supported wheat breeding program. AGRPC does support grain production research conducted by the University of Arizona.

AGRPC recently commissioned a University of Arizona study that reviewed a wide range of literature related to water use by irrigated grain production in a desert environment. The paper concluded that Arizona’s durum wheat production, as currently practiced, has a water footprint that is lower, to much lower, than evidenced in many other durum production regions.

Learn more about the Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council on its website here and on Facebook.

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By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst

With winter wheat prices remaining at or less than the cost of production and with a very wet planting season, it is no surprise that many U.S. farmers chose to plant slightly less winter wheat for harvest in 2020. USDA’s 2020/21 Winter Wheat Seedings report, released Jan. 10, reported U.S. farmers planted 30.8 million acres (12.5 million hectares) of winter wheat, down slightly from 2019/20 and 7% less than the 5-year average of 33.2 million acres (13.4 million hectares). Decreases for HRW and white winter wheat more than offset an increase in SRW planted area. USDA noted that this is the second smallest number of winter wheat acres on record.

Hard red winter (HRW). USDA assessed HRW planted area at 21.8 million acres (9.35 million hectares), down 1% from 2018. Planted acreage is down year-over-year in several major HRW-producing states with the largest decreases reported in Colorado, Montana and Nebraska. Colorado planted area fell 12% year-over-year to 1.90 million acres due to extreme dryness in the southeast, depressed commodity prices and pest pressure in the northeast. Record low planted area of 900,000 acres (364,000 hectares) in Nebraska can be attributed to weaker marketing conditions and an overly wet, late soybean harvest which prevented fall HRW planting.

“This didn’t just happen overnight,” says Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Board. “State-wide plantings have been trending down for a number of years due to poor marketing conditions.”

HRW planted area in Kansas and Oklahoma is stable year-over-year at 6.90 million acres (2.79 million hectares) and 4.20 million acres (1.7 million hectares), respectively.

Total winter wheat planted area in Texas jumped 9% year-over-year to 4.90 million acres (1.94 million hectares). About 95% of Texas winter wheat is HRW and 5% is SRW.

“Adequate soil moisture in many regions, combined with favorable marketing conditions compared to cotton, allowed producers to maximize HRW acres,” says Darby Campsey, director of communications and producer relations for the Texas Wheat Producers Board.

In South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, a very wet fall also prevented more HRW seeding, although these states usually plant a relatively small percentage of total U.S. HRW.

Soft red winter (SRW). Total SRW planted area of 5.64 million acres (2.28 million hectares) increased 8% from 2018. Increases in most SRW-producing states more than offset decreases in Delaware, Illinois Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin.

According to Tadd Nicholson, executive director of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, the state’s SRW planted area increased 12% over last year to 560,000 acres (227,000 hectares) due to ideal, timely planting conditions following a miserably wet spring which left many corn and soybean acres unplanted.

In Illinois, SRW planted area fell 25% from last year to 490,000 acres (198,000 hectares).

“It was one of the craziest years for weather in Illinois,” says Mike Doherty, interim executive director of the Illinois Wheat Association “It was the third wettest year on record and most of the precipitation fell in the first eight months. Farmers were beside themselves trying to manage other crops through the wet weather. Across the state, corn and soybeans were harvested 30 to 60 days late. You just can’t plant winter wheat if you can’t get the other crops out of the ground.”

There is also SRW grown in areas of Texas and Campsey reports that “strong marketing opportunities and better, dryer planting conditions for SRW compared to last year’s overly wet field conditions led to a significant increase in SRW acreage year-over-year.”

White winter wheat. White winter wheat planted area fell to an estimated 3.37 million acres (1.36 million hectares), down 4% from 2018. White winter wheat planted area in Idaho, Oregon and Washington fell below last year. Idaho farmers reported planting 720,000 acres (291,000 hectares) compared to 730,000 acres (295,000 hectares) in 2018. Planted area in Oregon fell 5% from last year to 700,000 acres (283,000 hectares). Washington planted area fell slightly less than 2018 to 1.70 million acres (688,000 hectares).

Durum. Winter durum planting in the southwestern United States is estimated at 70,000 acres (28,300 hectares), up 9% from 2018 but 41% less than 2017. Arizona and California plant Desert Durum® from December through January for harvest May through July.

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By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst

On Sept. 30, USDA released its Small Grains Summary noting that 2019/20 U.S. wheat production increased to 53.3 million metric tons (MMT), up 4 percent from last year due to significant improvements in yield despite lower planted area. While this is still 2 percent below the 5-year average of 54.2 MMT, the production volume coupled with significant carry-in stocks ensure that the U.S. wheat remains the most reliable supply for 2019/20. Here is a look at 2019/20 U.S. wheat production by class.

USDA’s Small Grains Summary indicates U.S. wheat yields offset a reduced planted area for 2019/20.

Hard Red Winter (HRW). Last fall, U.S. farmers decreased HRW planting in the U.S. Southern and Central Plans due to extremely wet conditions which delayed the soybean harvest and in turn HRW planting. A slight uptick in planted area in Montana and South Dakota partially offset reductions in other states. Total U.S. HRW planted area fell 2 percent year-over-year to 22.7 million acres (9.19 million hectares), 15 percent below the 5-year average of 26.6 million acres (10.8 million hectares). Cool temperatures and favorable moisture during the growing season boosted HRW yields substantially year-over-year in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. In Kansas, the largest HRW producing state, a higher average yield offset lower planted area and production increased 22 percent over 2018/19 levels to 338 million bushels (9.17 MMT). USDA estimates total 2019/20 HRW production increased 26 percent over last year to 834 million bushels (22.7 MMT).

Hard Red Spring (HRS). Cold soil temperatures and excessive moisture in certain areas delayed HRS planting across much of the Northern Plains. USDA says U.S. farmers planted 12.0 million acres (4.86 million hectares), 6% below last year but slightly higher than the 5-year average of 11.8 million acres (4.78 million hectares). A cool summer boosted HRS yields in Montana and South Dakota. Heavy, persistent rain has severely delayed the 2019 HRS harvest. According to USDA, as of September 30, U.S. spring wheat harvest is only 90 percent complete compared to the 5-year average of 99 percent. USDA estimates 2019 HRS production will total 558 million bushels (15.2 MMT), 5 percent lower than 2018, but 8 percent higher than the 5-year average of 518 million bushels (14.1 MMT).

Soft Red Winter (SRW). Last fall, U.S. farmers planted 5.54 million acres (2.24 million hectares) of SRW, down 6 percent from the year prior and 18 percent from the 5-year average of 6.7 million acres (2.71 million hectares) due to low wheat prices compared to soybeans and delayed planting. Excessive moisture continued through the growing season and slowed harvest progress in many places. USDA reported SRW production totaled 239 million bushels (6.50 MMT), down 16 percent from last year and 31 percent below the 5-year average of 348 million bushels (9.46 MMT).

White Wheat (Soft White, Club and Hard White). U.S. white wheat planted area fell 4 percent below 2018/19 levels to 3.95 million acres (1.60 million hectares). Mild growing conditions and good soil moisture in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) supported above-average winter and spring wheat yields. The average white winter wheat yield in Oregon increased 1.0 bu/acre (.067 MT/hectare) over last year to 68.0 bu/acre (4.57 MT/hectare) in 2019. Slightly lower planted area and above-average yields kept U.S. white wheat production stable year-over-year at 273 million bushels (7.43 MMT) and 8 percent higher than the 5-year average of 252 million bushels (6.87 MMT).

Durum. Anticipating less-than break even prices, farmers planted less durum area this year. In its Small Grains 2019 Summary, USDA estimated 1.34 million acres (542,000 hectares) were planted to durum, down 35 percent from 2018/19 and 32 percent below the 5-year average of 2.0 million acres (664,000 hectares). USDA estimated total 2019/20 U.S. durum production at 57.3 million bushels (1.57 MMT), down 26 percent from last year. Cool, wet weather boosted yields in the U.S. Northern plains. Both Montana and North Dakota durum yield potential reached a record high in 2019. The country’s average durum yield also reached a record high of 44.8 bu/acre (3.01 MT/hectare), up 13 percent from last year. However, as with HRS, a significant portion of the northern durum crop has not yet been harvested. Desert Durum® production fell 46 percent year-over year to 5.67 million bushels (154,000 MT) due to sharply lower planted area in both Arizona and California.

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Happy World Pasta Day! What a perfect day for U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) to share an overview of the 2018 U.S. Northern Durum and Desert Durum® crop quality results. Analysis shows the Northern durum crop is sound with high protein and excellent kernel characteristics. Vitreous kernel count and average kernel size are high and quality is balanced across the region. Desert Durum® production is down this year, though the 2018 crop will deliver the valuable milling, semolina and pasta quality traits that customers have learned to expect and appreciate.

Here is a summary of test results for Northern durum and Desert Durum®. As always, USW reminds buyers to be diligent with contract specifications to ensure they receive the quality they need.

Northern Durum

Weather and Harvest: A favorable growing season pushed yields to near record levels; production was up almost 60 percent compared to 2017. As with the hard red spring crop, mid-season rain boosted crop conditions and yield potential. Harvest was complete in most areas by late September.

Wheat and Grade Data: The crop average grade is U.S. No. 1 Hard Amber Durum (HAD) with average test weight of 61.4 lbs/bu (79.9 kg/hl) and average total kernel defects of 1 percent. The average vitreous kernel content is 90 percent, up from both last year and the 5-year average, with more than half of the crop above 90 percent vitreous compared to 45 percent in 2017.

Regional average protein is 14.5 percent on a 12 percent moisture basis (12% mb), equal to 2017 and slightly above the 5-year average. The crop average thousand kernel weight (TKW) is 41.2 g, the heaviest in six crop years, and the percent of large kernels is notably higher than a year ago. The average falling number is 425 sec. Although disease pressure was slightly higher in 2018 compared to 2017, DON was undetectable or <0.5 ppm in the samples analyzed.

Semolina and Processing Data: The Buhler laboratory mill average total extraction of 74 percent and semolina extraction of 69.3 percent are both higher than last year and the 5-year averages. The milled product ash and speck counts are also higher than last year and the 5-year averages. The gluten index average is 57.1 percent compared to 86.3 percent in 2017. Last year’s drought conditions supported exceptionally high gluten index values, while the 2018 values are more typical.

Semolina and cooked spaghetti evaluations show similar semolina color values to a year ago, but lower dry pasta color. Mixing properties are slightly weaker and cooked firmness values are similar to the 5-year averages. The higher extraction levels and higher ash levels on the Buhler lab mill may have contributed in part to the lower color scores on the dry pasta. Evaluation of the cooked spaghetti shows slightly lower firmness than 2017, but higher than the 5-year average.

Desert Durum®

Wheat and Grade Data: In 2018, the average grade is No. 1 Hard Amber Durum (HAD). Test weight average was 62.8 lbs/bu (81.8 kg/hl). The average vitreous kernel content (HVAC) is 98.0 percent, a high average typical of Desert Durum®. Average damaged kernels are 0.2 percent and total defects are 0.6 percent. Desert Durum® is characterized by its kernel low moisture content, and this year’s average was 6.7 percent. Protein content average was 13.4 percent (12% mb).

Semolina and Processing Data: The semolina b* value was 30.5, similar to 2017 b* value of 30.9.  Wet gluten of 32.3 percent and gluten index of 75 percent. Semolina Mixograph score was 8 and Alveograph W value was 231 (10-4 Joules), both of which indicate high strength.  Pasta color b* value was 44 and score was 9.6. Pasta cooked firmness was 6.9, significantly higher than 2017.

View the full report for Desert Durum® here.
View the full report for San Joaquin Valley Durum here.
View the full report for Sacramento Valley Durum here.